Shailene Woodley chats to Empire Magazine in February's issue about DIVERGENT & The Fault in Our Stars, including the physical challenge of performing stunts & the pressure if bringing to life two beloved literary characters. Check out that interview below as well as pictures from the photoshoot.
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Shailene Woodley on why the “fierce and daring” Divergent is far more than just ‘the new Hunger Games'
If Hunger Games was billed (wrongly) as the successor to Twilight, Divergent is billed (rightly) as the natural heir to The Hunger Games. Based on 25 year-old Veronica Roth’s successful YA novel, it is set in a violent future where young people are forced to choose between five “factions”, providing high drama for a teen heroine who could overturn the system just by existing. Shailene Woodley, who plays protagonist Tris, acknowledges the inevitability of the comparison.
“The Hunger Games and Divergent are both young-adult movies, take place in the future and have a female lead,” says Woodley. “They both have violence involving young children. But there are also a lot of differences...”
The “factions” of Roth’s post apocalyptic world are defined by their members’ dominant personality trait. So there is Erudite (intelligence), Dauntless (bravery), Abnegation (selflessness), Amity (friendship) and Candour (honesty). Some people, however, are “divergent”, with tendencies towards multiple factions — and this makes them a threat to the whole order.
“I think their biggest struggle right now, in editing, is how do we introduce this world to an audience and have them understand it?” acknowledges Woodley of this tricky concept.
Director Neil Burger, having previously tussled with another difficult-to- visualise concept in Bradley Cooper thriller Limitless, was certainly aware and thus developed distinct visual styles for each faction. So, the Dauntless are heavy on leather and sportswear; those from Abnegation wear rather shapeless, neutral tones; while the Erudite (led by Kate Winslet’s icy Jeanine) wear sharp suits.
The locations, shot in Chicago where the book is set, were also chosen to reflect each group: Dauntless headquarters were shot in grimy warehouses, while the Erudite work in orderly office buildings.
Given Tris’ choice to join the Dauntless (having discovered and concealed her true “divergent” nature), it was leather and warehouses all the way for Woodley. Furthermore, that faction’s love of competitive training regimes and hurling themselves off speeding vehicles provided her with a particular physical challenge. “I’m afraid of heights, but I have this adrenaline-junkie side,” she laughs when we meet in London during early November. “So it was really fun to jump on and off trains, and climb a Ferris wheel. I got dragged by a train for a little bit; I missed the handle and fell on my face! I was fine...”
And those stunts were plentiful. Not only do the Dauntless encourage a near suicidal disregard for personal risk, the fresh recruits soon find themselves called into action... “It’s very violent. We’re shooting guns. We’re punching each other. There’s death. I love that they kept it as fierce and daring as the book was, because there’s nothing harder than seeing young people go through that. But the cool thing is that they’re fighting for their freedom. I know that in The Hunger Games there were a lot of, ‘How can you have kids killing kids?’ issues. But if you look at history, at any war, there have been 16-year-olds killing each other. It’s not that we’re saying, ‘Look how cool it is.’ It’s more saying, ‘Look how sad it is, that girl has to shoot a gun.’
“The internal conflicts were so beautiful — am I brave or am I selfless?” marvels Woodley. “I mean, who even has the option to think about those things?” The 22-year-old herself doesn’t show much evidence of conflict, smiling with the serenity of the dedicated yoga fan and herbal tea drinker. She greets everyone with a hug, and during our conversation chooses to curl up on the floor in a woolly jumper rather than perch in state, high-heeled and designer-clad. It’s easy to see the everywoman appeal that led Alexander Payne to cast her in her breakthrough role in The Descendants.
But it’s Divergent that promises to boost her career to a new level in 2014 — rather than, as we might have once thought, The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Woodley had been lined up to star as girl-next- door Mary Jane, only for her part to be cut. The announcement suggested she would return for the third film in 2016, but she sounds less than certain. “Now with Divergent (which has three further movies planned) I have no idea what the schedule is going to be like. Hopefully I’ll be in it. We’ll see.”
She does, though, have another buzz-drawing adaptation banked: John Green’s The Fault In Our Stars, set for a summer release in the States. It’s the story of Hazel, a teenage cancer sufferer who strikes up a relationship with a boy in her support group. “We finished shooting three weeks ago,” says Woodley, who despite the pressure of taking on not one but two beloved literary characters remains calm. “If I tried to make Tris who everyone else wanted her to be, she would be this clusterfuck of a human. Same with Hazel. The only way to do Tris or Hazel justice was to bring her to life in the way that I felt was right.”